In recent years, heavy rain and drought conditions have dramatically affected crop performance here in Ireland.

Harsh weather conditions have placed extra pressure on crops.

When plants suffer from abiotic stress - caused by drought-like conditions - they become more susceptible to disease and pests, and therefore yield loss. Unhealthy and undernourished plants do not perform to their best.

Preventing stress

Farmers have looked at different options to prevent crop stress and biostimulants are becoming increasingly popular, while more growers are also adding trace elements to the mix to combat nutrient deficiencies.

Research in the UK has shown that a mix of a hybrid biostimulant and nutrients has the potential to increase plants' drought tolerance by 25% to 35% and boost yields by up to 30%.

Trial work from Nottingham Trent University has shown that unique biostimulants combined with micronutrients could help to reduce crop losses as a result of drought.

Unhealthy and undernourished plants do not perform to their best

Having completed an initial trial on bell peppers, it was concluded that the application of biostimulants and micronutrients reduced susceptibility to drought and increased crop yield.

Research then moved on to more conventional crops, such as wheat and potatoes.

Using plant genomic technologies, the researchers discovered that specific genes were triggered by biostimulants and this reduced plant stress.

A total of 178 genes affected by the new biostimulant technology were identified.

This provided insight into gene regulation and molecular markers for breeding programmes focused on drought resistance and tolerance.

Treated crops saw reduced water loss, increased enzyme activity, a boost in nutrient transfer, plant growth and disease resistance.

As more chemicals fall out of registration and as the EU aims to reduce pesticide usage, the focus will turn to plant health, stress and nutrient deficiencies, in order to optimise plant performance.

Research like this will be essential into the future.